New OSHA NEP Targets Warehousing 

The recent announcement from the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) — about a new National Emphasis Program (NEP) targeting warehouses, distribution centers, and “high injury rate retail establishments” — isn’t a surprise. The agency has been hammering places like Amazon, Dollar General, Family Dollar, Dollar Tree, and TJ Maxx with some hefty fines over the past couple of years and believes the problem has become severe enough to take additional regulatory action.

The NEP will remain in effect for three years — until July 13, 2026.

A rapidly growing industry

Over the past decade, the warehousing and distribution center industry has experienced significant growth. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), from 2011 through December 2021, employment in this sector has grown from 668,900 to 1,713,900 (seasonally adjusted). Concurrently, the injury and illness rate has also increased. From January 2017 through December 2021, the five-year average incidence rate of nonfatal occupation illnesses — and the average Days Away Restricted or Transferred (DART) rate — in establishments associated with warehousing and distribution center operations were significantly higher than the average rate for all private industries. 

High-hazard retail establishments 

In addition to warehousing and distribution facilities, OSHA will target selected retail establishments with high injury rates. The agency’s Injury Tracking Application (ITA) indicates that the highest-risk retail establishments include the following NAICS (North American Industry Classification System) codes.  

  • 444110Home Centers  
  • 444130Hardware Stores  
  • 444190Other Building Materials Dealers  
  • 445110Supermarkets and other grocery stores  
  • 452311Warehouse Clubs and Supercenters  

What will OSHA be looking for? 

According to the NEP, each OSHA Area Office has received two target lists customized for that region. One list includes warehouse and distribution facilities, and the second consists of high-injury-rate retail establishments. The inspections conducted under the NEP will focus on workplace hazards common to the targeted workplaces. These hazards include powered industrial truck operations, material handling/storage, walking-working surfaces, means of egress, and fire protection.   

Heat and ergonomic hazards will also be considered during all inspections, and a health inspection will be conducted if OSHA learns that heat or ergonomic hazards are present.  

What should employers do now?

Employers operating in targeted NAICS industries should develop an inspection plan and conduct a new hazard assessment focusing on the specific hazards identified in the NEP (summarized above).   

Also, because the summer of 2023 has already been one of the hottest on record employers are strongly encouraged to reevaluate their indoor and outdoor heat-related hazards. Showing the OSHA compliance officer that employees have been appropriately trained on recognizing heat-related illnesses — for themselves and coworkers — will go a long way in avoiding a General Duty Clause citation in this area.   

As always, if you have any questions or concerns about your readiness for an OSHA inspection — or if you have received a citation for any reason — don’t hesitate to contact Orr & Reno for assistance.  

About the author: James F. Laboe

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